Detroit Tigers could become playoff contender with 1 more free agent, 1 trade before spring training

Tigers starting pitching needs reinforcements

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (55) pumps his fist after striking out Cleveland Indians' Yu Chang (2) to end the sixth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April, 14, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks) (David Banks, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers could become legitimate playoff contenders this season if they make a couple more moves before the official start of spring training next week.

Major League Baseball owners and players finally came to an agreement Thursday, and now, a frenzied rush to spring training has begun. Free agency opened after the owners ratified the deal, and many of the league’s top free agents are expected to come off the board in the next 48 hours.

So what should the Tigers do?

Remember, the team already upgraded at shortstop, with Javier Baez, and at starting pitcher, with Eduardo Rodriguez. General manager Al Avila also traded for Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

Those upgrades should only bolster a roster that finished 2021 on a 68-61 tear under new manager A.J. Hinch. If not for a dismal first six weeks, the Tigers could have been in the thick of the American League wildcard race.

Here’s how the Tigers’ roster likely stands, without prospect promotions:

Starting lineup

  1. Akil Baddoo, LF
  2. Jonathan Schoop, 1B
  3. Robbie Grossman, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
  6. Javier Baez, SS
  7. Isaac Paredes, 2B
  8. Tucker Barnhart, C
  9. Derek Hill, CF

Bench

  • Eric Haase, C/LF
  • Victor Reyes, OF
  • Daz Cameron, OF
  • Harold Castro, INF
  • Willi Castro, INF

Starting rotation

  • Eduardo Rodriguez
  • Casey Mize
  • Tarik Skubal
  • Matt Manning
  • ???

Bullpen

  • Gregory Soto
  • Joe Cisnero
  • Michael Fulmer
  • Tyler Alexander
  • Alex Lange
  • Kyle Funkhouser
  • Joe Jimenez

This list is likely to change. For starters, the Tigers might replace either Willi Castro or Cameron with an eighth relief pitcher, especially after a truncated spring training.

Second base is also a major question mark. If Schoop starts at first base, the position could be filled by Paredes, Harold Castro or Willi Castro. If Spencer Torkelson makes the roster, Schoop would shift over to second.

Riley Greene would also create a much clearer outfield picture. Grossman will play a corner on an everyday basis, but if Greene earns a starting spot, Hill and Baddoo would become prime candidates for a righty/lefty platoon.

Possible lineup with prospects

So let’s assume, for a moment, that Greene and Torkelson make the team at some point in the first half. The lineup suddenly looks a lot more promising:

  1. Akil Baddoo, LF
  2. Robbie Grossman, RF
  3. Riley Greene, CF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
  6. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  7. Javier Baez, SS
  8. Spencer Torkelson, 1B
  9. Tucker Barnhart, C

This lineup has power potential throughout and a bit of speed sprinkled in, as well. Baddoo, Greene, Grossman, Candelario and Torkelson are high-upside on-base bats.

In this scenario, the Tigers wouldn’t need to make a change to the offense. The pitching still needs work, though.

Pitching additions

The Tigers’ bullpen looks better than it has in decades, both in terms of depth and the ability to miss bats. Soto, Cisnero and Fulmer are established late-inning options for Hinch, and Lange, Funkhouser and Alexander fill important roles.

Could a veteran such as Andrew Chafin or Collin McHugh solidify the bullpen? Absolutely. But I would rather see the Tigers allocate remaining resources to the rotation.

Rodriguez, Mize and Skubal are entrenched in the starting staff, but the final two spots are a major area of concern. Sure, Manning will likely win one of those jobs because of his profile as a prospect, but the Tigers could probably upgrade to take some pressure off his shoulders.

Even after spending to add Baez and Rodriguez, the Tigers are at least $100 million under the new competitive balance tax threshold of $230 million. That gives them plenty of money to spend on another starting pitcher (or two).

Most of the elite free agents signed before the lockout in December, but the most interesting name left is Carlos Rodon. The 29-year-old lefty finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting last season after posting a 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 0.957 WHIP and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Fatigue and decreased velocity at the end of the season raised questions about Rodon’s health -- he’s had issues in the past -- and that’s why he’s still available. But this is the type of short-term gamble the Tigers could take to put them over the top.

At best, Rodon can provide ace-like production in a smaller quantity. If he gave the Tigers 140 excellent innings (he finished at 132.2 last season), they could fill in the gaps with Manning, Alexander or others.

At worst, Rodon struggles with injuries and the Tigers are right back where they started anyway. Other than a one-year financial hit, nothing would change. Signing Rodon will not take a long-term commitment.

Rodriguez was a solid, safe signing, but he’s not an ace. Pairing him with an upside arm like Rodon would make sense.

As insurance, the Tigers should acquire one more starting pitcher, which would either allow them to use Manning as a backup option or protect their young pitchers with a six-man rotation.

The Oakland Athletics are the most obvious trade partner, as they’re reportedly shopping Sean Manaea and/or Chris Bassitt. Both are free agents after the 2022 season, which should make them more affordable than someone like German Marquez or John Means.

Detroit wouldn’t be willing to part with Greene or Torkelson in a deal, but the rest of the organization’s prospects should be available. Will Ryan Kreidler’s value ever be higher? Why not listen to offers for Ty Madden, Reese Olson or any number of the organization’s top prospects if it could strengthen the staff right now?

Oakland is reportedly looking to offload star first baseman Matt Olson and others in addition to starting pitchers -- it sounds like a full teardown. That means now is the time for the Tigers to see if a deal could be made for a starter.

If no trade is available, nothing is stopping the Tigers from signing two of the remaining free agent starting pitchers. Michael Pineda, Zack Greinke and Yusei Kikuchi would offer upgrades to the current staff.

Maybe Manning will break out this season. Maybe the entire rotation will stay healthy for 162 games. But I wouldn’t bet on both of those dreams coming to fruition. If the Tigers are serious about making a run at the new 12-team postseason this year, it’s time to solidify the position.


About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.